Rancho Santa Fe Association board redefines Open Space policy

By Karen Billing

The Rancho Santa Fe Association’s Open Space Policy and Fund will now be known as the Covenant Enhancement Policy and Fund, to better reflect the issues the Association is facing today and establish clear guidelines for making property acquisitions in the future.

The board voted on the change at its Oct. 4 meeting.

The redefined policy now allows for acquisition of several types of parcels including: critical parcels for open space; purchase of parcels to allow the removal of existing development; purchase of buildings, land easements or development rights to preserve community features, landscapes or historic resources; partnership acquisitions of open space parcels; purchase of parcels for recreational needs; and expenditure of funds to renovate, enhance or improve Covenant resources or safety.

The policy was in need of an update as it had stated that the fund only be used to acquire land for passive use. However, $15.7 million of the $16.2 million spent on open space has been spent to acquire parcels with active, not passive, use, according to an RSF Association staff report. Most notably is the Osuna Ranch which includes several active uses, making the purchase inconsistent with the policy. Among other active use acquisitions the board has made are the RSF Field, the Dacus property and Rancho Arroyo.

Mark Holmlund, a 15-year Ranch resident, said he commended the board for acknowledging that the policy has rarely been followed in its 28-year existence and is in need of modification.

But Holmlund argued that modified or not, the policy is not needed as property is either too expensive to buy or not available.

“’Covenant Enhancement Policy’ suggests that it is nice to have but is not mission critical,” said Holmlund, noting that the purchase of Osuna was not an example of the board putting its best foot forward.

Resident John Dodds agreed, saying that the Open Space Fund grew so large and the lack of appropriate parcels resulted in the Association buying the Osuna Ranch at a “horrific price.”

“I don’t think the board has a fiduciary responsibility to purchase real estate for homeowners,” said Dodds. “Most purchases will be active purchases and is this something that you really need to be doing for us? I think not.”

Holmlund said that he would rather see the fund’s use and assessment be put toward the removal of dead and dying eucalyptus trees as he thinks fire mitigation is a much higher priority.

He suggested they could take that $4 million the fund will accrue by the end of the sale of the Osuna house and subsidize 50 percent of members’ tree removal costs up to a maximum amount. He said not everyone may need trees removed but everyone would benefit from increased fire safety.

“The worst case scenario for the Covenant is not that the Ranch will lose its cherished rural ambiance because not enough open space has been preserved, but rather that a wild fire will roar through the Ranch and burn it down,” said Holmlund.

Director Larry Spitcaufsky said that Holmlund’s suggestions are interesting and the issues that have been brought up are not being ignored, that they are being considered as the Association decides what’s best to do for the community.

“By clarifying the language of the policy, it does allow us to take a look at situations like the dead and dying trees,” board president Roxana Foxx said.

Director Ann Boon said she was in agreement with Holmlund about fire prevention being very important and that the Association’s CONE (Committee on Natural Environment) group has made it a high priority to address the health of the forest.

“It is our fiduciary responsibility to spend our assessment funds wisely and also to protect the Covenant and make decisions that uphold and support our communal and individual property values going forward,” Boon said.

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